(Chapter XI, section 18)

The Gypsies

Within the greater confines of the Mediterranean race must be placed one people of non-European origin, the Gypsies. The Romanies, the Tziganes, the children of Little Egypt, are believed, on authoritative grounds, to be the descendants of one or more pariah tribes of northwestern India who for some unknown reason began to wander westward before or about the turn of the present millennium, at about the same time that Lief Erikson was discovering America.136

They are believed to have travelled across Iran into Armenia, and thence into the Asiatic territory of the Byzantine Empire, where they arrived at some time between 1100 and 1200 A.D.; their first appearance in Europe cannot be traced back earlier than 1300 A.D. A second wave passed again through Persia and the Armenian highlands, but turned southwestward into Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. The language of the European Gypsies is basically Indian, a derivative of Sanskrit or Prakrit, but it contains also words picked up in transit through Persia and Armenia. Words of other languages, Greek, Rumanian, Magyar, give evidence of passage through European countries. In each country the Gypsy speech has adapted itself to the language of the non-Gypsy inhabitants; in the far periphery, in England and in Spain, it has become no more than a half-language with as many local as Romany words, as any reader of George Borrow will recognize.137

In the Balkans and Hungary some of the Gypsies were made landed serfs under the jurisdiction of nobles and churchmen, others were given special charter to wander; these latter practiced the trades of tinkers, wood carvers, gold panners, and minstrels, while their women exercised from their first appearance their calling of sorceresses and fortune-tellers. Although nomadic from the beginning, the Gypsies were not especially concerned with horse breeding and horse trading in eastern Europe; it was only in the west, where regulations and restrictions kept them on the move, that this specialty was developed.

After about a century in eastern Europe, some of them began to wander westward, and arrived in Germany in 1417, France in 1427, and England in about 1500 A.D. Some passed on through the Basque Provinces into Spain, others spread northward as far as Sweden and Finland. All said that they came from “Little Egypt,” and must go to Rome to expiate some sin of their ancestors. At this time they already travelled in wagons, whereas those in the east had arrived as dwellers in black tents. It is possible that the spread of the Turks in southeastern Europe had impelled this movement westward, but if so, the Gypsies rode into greater trials and persecutions than those they were fleeing. From about 1600 A.D. onward, their treatment in western Europe was often barbarous.

Counting Gypsies is the most arduous known form of census taking, and no estimates as to their numbers can be accurate. There are perhaps nearly a million of them in the world, allowing at least 100,000 on either side for a probable error. Of these, over half a million are said to live in Rumania and Hungary. Spain has about 40,000, Italy over 30,000, and Russia nearly 60,000. Probably at least 150,000 live in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia, while France has but 2000, Germany the same number, and the British Isles about 12,000. The total outside Europe, including Asia, Africa, America, and Australia, would perhaps amount to about 200,000.

The eastern European Gypsies have for the most part settled down, and many have lost their language. In Hungary less than 10,000 are still nomadic. In studying the racial characters of the European Gypsies, it will be necessary to distinguish between the nomads, who have in some countries preserved their original racial type with some degree of purity, and the settled Gypsies who have mixed extensively with the non-Gypsy population.

The most noticeable physical trait of the Gypsies, remarked everywhere from their first appearance to the present, is their dark pigmentation. In skin color this is often so dark as to exclude them, in popular estimation, from membership in the white race. Out of 52 Hungarian Gypsies Weisbach found 38, or 73 per cent, to have brown or brownish skin color; the others, light brown to yellowish. Glück, in a group of 66 from Bosnia, found 30, or 45 per cent, dark brown; 6, or 9 per cent, brown. 27, or 41 per cent, light brown; and only three light in a European sense. Lebzelter, with observations on the skin colors of 36 from Serbia, finds 6 brown, 29 yellowish, or yellowish-white, and one olive or brunet white. Nomadic Gypsies noticed by the author in Albania seemed to be all or nearly all brown, nearer dark brown than light; the sedentary Gypsies of Tirana are also, as a rule, brown-skinned, although light- skinned individuals occur among them.

There can be little doubt that when the Gypsies arrived in Europe they were all or nearly all brown-eyed; today some 90 per cent of Hungarian and Serbian Gypsies still have unmixed brunet irises, with the majority dark brown to black. The head hair and the beard, as well, are almost always black among pure Gypsies, fine in texture, very thick on the head, and uniformly straight. Wavy hair seems to occur only among Gypsy-European hybrids. In all groups studied in Hungary and southeastern Europe, there are a few individuals with medium brown, light brown, or even blond hair, but these may with little doubt be considered mixtures.

The purest nomadic Gypsy groups are all short-statured, with means of 161 cm. to 164 cm.; the Hungarian Gypsies are taller, with a mean of 166.5 cm.; the “black” Bosnian Gypsies, living in a country of tall people, have a mean of 168 cm., while the “white” or palpably mixed Bosnian Gypsies, with a mean of 173 cm., are nearly as tall as the Bosnians themselves. In France they attain a stature of 166 cm., as high as that for Frenchmen, or higher; in England they are presumably nearly as tall as the English, as are the Stanleys and Coopers who live in America.

The purer groups of Gypsies have head length means of 188 to 190 mm., and breadths of 145 mm. or slightly over; their cephallc index means range from 76 among Black Bosnian Gypsies to 79 among those of Hungary. In France it is also 79, extraordinarily low for people living in so brachycephalic a country. The heads of the Gypsies are usually low-vaulted, with a mean auricular height of about 120 mm.; their faces are small, with a total face height mean of 120 mm., a bizygomatic of 135 mm., and minimum frontal and bigonial means of 106 mm. Their facial index, 88, lies on the border of mesoprosopy and leptoprosopy, and their nasal index, 63, is leptorrhine. Their nasal dimensions, 52 mm. by 33 mm., are absolutely small. The nasal profile is, as a rule, straight.

In all facial features, as well as in their metrical position, the unmixed Gypsies are standard members of a small Mediterranean racial type; they could not have acquired this constant racial character anywhere between the Indus Valley and Hungary, since all Mediterranean forms encountered on the way are different. The nomadic Gypsies of Hungary, Rumania, and the Balkans, are still largely of this type; the sedentary Gypsies are gradually merging into the populations that surround them.

In western Europe the Gypsy is a hybrid, growing less Indian as one moves westward. The English Gypsies, in fact, to whose numbers have been added vagrant Englishmen, arc in many cases hardly to be distinguished from the latter. The English Gypsies of America, who have given up horses for automobiles and who now sell the baskets made by Passamaquoddy Indians, look in some instances little different from brunet Yankees, although their English blood was accreted in England rather than in America. We have also in our country, however, many families of Balkan Gypsies, who retain their complete gypsy racial character, and who still wear their colorful clothing and jewelry, although they sleep in trailers rather than in caravans.


136 See Gaster, M., article “Gipsies,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, thirteenth edition.
Lebzelter, V., MAGW, vol. 52, 1922, pp. 23—42, contains an historical summary well as anthropometric data.
Other anthropometric sources include:
Glück, L., WMBH, vol. 5, 1897, pp. 403—433.
Karpeles, B., MAGW, vol. 21, 1891, pp. 31—33.
Kopernicki, I., AFA, vol. 5, 1872, p. 267.
Marie, A., and MacAuliffe, L., CRAS, vol. 172, 1921, pp. 49—50.
Pittard, E., Anth, vol. 13, 1902, pp. 321—328; vol. 15, 1902, pp. 177—187; BSAL, vol. 22, 1904, pp. 207—217; Les Peuples des Balkans.

137 The reader, if he does not already know them, is invited to join the great company of Borrovians by acquainting himself with The Romano Lavo-Lil, Lavengro, The Romany Rye, and The Bible in Spain.